Adelaide Festivals

Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz was a leader of the contemporary visual artists in Adelaide in the 1950s, and also worked as a stage designer, actor and producer, and was a teacher of drama. He and his wife Joan hosted monthly and New Year’s Eve parties for two decades where artists, musicians and theatre people could gather and enjoy each other’s company. In the 1950s he was a good friend of Henry Krips, composer and principal conductor South Australian Symphony Orchestra (Adelaide) from 1949 to 1972, and John Bishop, Professor of Music at the University of Adelaide from 1948 until his death in 1964. Wlad recounted that Professor Bishop first mentioned the possibility of hosting a Festival of Arts in Adelaide when the artist was working briefly as a handyman at the university in the early 1950s. Wlad said the idea circulated and many conversations had at openings, meetings of the Contemporary Art Society and in private functions, and it gathered momentum as the decade went on until Bishop found a powerful ally in the form of Sir Lloyd Dumas, managing director of The Advertiser newspaper.

Wlad suffered head injuries in a motorcycle accident in June 1956, towards the end of the Adelaide Architectural Convention Exhibition. He suffered from amnesia and lost his colour vision, and had several operations on his skull. His health declined, and he turned to the theatre once again, and with the aid of his wife and close friends, especially Brian and Nancy Claridge, he was gradually able to recover his memory. During this period he wrote plays (e.g.”Three Sundays”) and refreshed his knowledge of Stanislavski, whom he had studied at the Great Theatre in his home city of Lwow, in Poland, where he was an Assistant Director before the war.

In 1957 he started teaching the Method for the WEA, and soon a core group remained dedicated to exploring its potential, presenting a first production at Union Hall for the Adelaide University Theatre Guild of Jean Jacques Bernard’s The Unquiet Spirit, written in 1932. It was translated by John Leslie Frith and performed under the moniker of “The Dutkiewicz Studio Players” at the Union Hall in late July 1959. Production stills and his individual stage design suggests that visually the play had similarities with Wlad’s play Ode to a Park-bench, one of his productions in Hohenfels, Bavaria, for his own troupe Teatr Nowy, which toured Polish DP camps for some years after the war. Wlad and Brian Claridge were the two main players in the drama, which made quite an impression on theatre-goers.

He settled on the name “The Art Studio Players” (ASP), since they were training and rehearsing in his painting studio in Gay’s Arcade in the city. Wlad decided to produce Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths to coincide with the first Adelaide Festival. The core of the group consisted of Brian and Nancy Claridge, Terry and Jim Stapleton, Les Dayman, Anne Edmonds, Brian Claridge, Barbara West, Laurie Davies, Ann Christie and Andrew Steiner.

The Lower Depths required a fresh translation for the troupe in Adelaide. Adam Kriegel, a Polish-origin artist and violinist with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, worked with Wlad on revising the idiosyncratic patois of the Russian slums. Despite trimming, the four acts ran for three hours, with a ten-minute interval. It was epic.

It was necessary for Wlad to contribute significantly to the design of the sets. Since Wlad was playing a leading part, Ian Davidson was employed as stage manager to provide organisational back-up since the producer was performing; and he was assisted by Andrew Booth (son of Edward Stirling Booth). Ludwik Dutkiewicz designed the costumes and prepared the make-up, and played a role as well.

According to Max Harris, the production was an amazing success:

“In the deepest context of our theatrical life the dredging-up of The Lower
is probably the most important event in post-war drama … The Adelaide production had something of a freak quality … W. Dutkiewicz had years of firsthand Stanislavskian training and retains a powerful sense of his slavonic origins… and the result was a freak theatrical tour de force.”

(Nation, 12 March 1960, p. 18)

ASP went on to produce several more plays over three more years, including a production of Bernard Kops’ The Dream of Peter Mann to coincide with the 1962 Festival. ASP closed down when in initial stages of a production of Chekov’s The Seagull, scheduled for 1963. Wlad returned to the stage again, in 1967, to mount a production of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck for the Adelaide University Theatre Guild. He also acted in several television dramas for Crawford Productions in Melbourne, until the early 1970s.

Wlad was able to recover his colour vision over time and resumed painting after a few years’ hiatus, in 1960. He relocated his studio from the city to his home and held annual exhibitions there in his studio gallery for Festivals and Christmas. He also exhibited in major prize exhibitions, The Advertiser exhibitions, held over 40 solo and participated in over 100 group exhibitions when he was alive, as well as remaining an active member of the CASSA and RSASA (local art societies). He was a member of the City Decoration and Illumination Committee for the Adelaide Festival from its inception. He was commissioned to do a series of sculptures for the median strip of King William Street for the 1966 and 1968 Festivals.

There are a number of drawings of ideas for these designs in the Dutkiewicz Archive in the State Library of South Australia. Some of these were realized: the 1966 design played with the idea of it being the fourth festival of arts, whereas the 1968 design harked back to the mobile form he produced for the 6AAC Exhibition (see page here).

Wlad’s posthumous portrait of Professor Bishop (c.1966-67) now resides in the Adelaide Festival collection, and hangs in the boardroom.


Top group – 1) Wlad Dutkiewicz & Brian Claridge, The Unquiet Spirit, 1959; 2) Wlad as the landlord in The Lower Depths (1960); 3) Programme, The Lower Depths; 4) Barbara West, Roots, 1961 (Photos by Ian Davidson).

Bottom group – 1) Wlad’s design for Street sculptures, Adelaide Festival 1966; 2) Wlad’s design for Street sculptures, Adelaide Festival 1968; Sculpture in situ (photo by KC Duffield, SLSA); 4) Wlad with the Prototype for the 1968 design (photocopy of printed photograph courtesy of The News).

Further reading:–method–theatre-in-1950s


About dutkiewiczarchive

The archive of Dr Adam Jan Dutkiewicz, artist, writer, art historian, researcher, editor, publisher, book designer, proof reader, catalogue designer, exhibition curator and specialist in South Australian art and enthusiast for post-war architecture and design
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